Influenza, which is overwhelming emergency rooms in Quebec, is also spreading in Ontario, and the peak is still to come, warns an expert.
The percentage of tests that came back positive for the type A influenza virus almost doubled in two weeks in the province, from 7.9% to 15.4%, according to Public Health Ontario (PHO).
“There was a peak in COVID-19 at the end of December, and there, it is influenza which is increasing in great force,” confirms Duty virologist Hugues Loemba. The coronavirus positivity rate has, for its part, decreased by 0.6 percentage points in two weeks, according to SPO figures.
The Dr Loemba, who expects flu infections to “increase further around mid-January,” says the peak has not yet been reached. “We are not at the end of our troubles. »
“Consistent with what is expected at this time of year,” detection of the influenza virus increased during the week ending December 30 almost uniformly across Canada, except in the Prairies and the Territories, specifies the Public Health Agency of Canada.
The period “from December to February” is in fact considered each year to be “at high risk of transmission of respiratory diseases in health care establishments”, specifies Ottawa Public Health.
But this year, the “resurgence of respiratory viruses” started particularly early, according to the Dr Loemba, with an increase in COVID-19 cases from the end of summer. This could herald a longer infection season, with “several peaks” of different viruses, notably that of type B influenza – which generally arrives later – or of a sub-variant of Omicron, explains the associate professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa.
Since not everyone gets tested, the numbers of cases must be taken into account with caution according to him. Coupling virus positivity rates and their detection in wastewater gives a more accurate idea of trends.
According to OPH data released Dec. 21, the detection of COVID-19 in the province’s wastewater has not been this high in more than a year. “Wastewater is a number that doesn’t lie,” says Mr. Loemba.
Outbreaks in Sudbury
In Sudbury, where there are “a lot of cases”, “several outbreaks [de maladies respiratoires] have been reported in hospitals, long-term care homes and retirement homes,” public health in the northern Ontario city said Thursday, calling on the population to take “precautions.”
Elderly people are more vulnerable to the effects of the virus, explains Mr. Loemba, and outbreaks in these establishments make people “fear the worst”. Children and people with stable chronic illnesses may deteriorate due to a respiratory infection.
However, it indicates that a larger part of the population is now “immune” to viruses, having been exposed and vaccinated in recent years. “Despite everything, there are people who are a little more fragile who end up in hospital,” he said, inviting people to avoid gatherings and contact with vulnerable people when they feel sick, to wear a mask in a crowd or to receive booster doses.
“It doesn’t take much. […] In the past, we had people who died just from influenza, but now we have COVID and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) added to the mix. »
Staff “out of breath”
In addition to the direct effects on the health of more vulnerable people, the flu season has “collateral effects”, underlines Mr. Loemba, citing “the congestion of emergencies which tires” the staff and causes “delays in treatment […] for other diseases.
The one who works at Montfort Hospital in Ottawa says he has “never seen such low morale in the medical profession.” And this “may become more accentuated during this period”. He claims that several of his colleagues, “at the end of their rope”, took early retirement or changed professions.
This report is supported by the Local Journalism Initiative, funded by the Government of Canada.